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Transportable treats and hostess gift ideas please!

A good friend has invited me and DH along with another couple to spend a long weekend at her parents' lake house later this month. We went last summer as well and brought booze and a few edibles, but we were somewhat unprepared for just how much work is required to feed that many adults when the nearest real grocery store is 30 mins away. So, this year, I wanted to bring some premade things that won't take up a ton of fridge space and that will save my friend and her parents some trouble! (We will still bring booze, of course.) Also, I would like to make something non-perishable (or with a very long fridge life) as a gift they can enjoy after we leave.

So, give me your thoughts. I am planning to make a batch of bacon jam for (part of) the hostess gift - it is perishable, but it lasts quite a while in the fridge, and it's something you can't easily pick up in the supermarket. I was also thinking of some tapenade, or perhaps a dessert sauce (salted maple caramel, perhaps). Maybe all three. I don't can, so truly shelf stable jams are out, but I could make a freezer jam of some type. I have a small insulated bag where I could keep a couple of 12-16oz. jars on ice for the trip, so no worries there.

As for the stuff we'll want to eat while we're there, anything goes, although fridge space was somewhat hard to come by last year. I was thinking of a batch of seven-layer bars, since those are good for quite a while at room temp, and perhaps a pound cake or other versatile "plain" cake to go with fruit, ice cream, etc. Maybe zucchini bread or other breakfast-y treats? Coffee cake? Muffins? Baguettes? Anything I make will have to be made a day in advance, packed up and driven four hours without refrigeration, and probably wouldn't get eaten until the next day at the earliest. Do you think a lentil and roasted vegetable salad with vinaigrette would be okay that long? Other non-baked ideas? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Really, no takers? Come on hounds! :)

    1. 3 days, limited refrigeration, likely with heat and humidity. I'm thinking mold on the baked goods and a lentil and roasted vegetable salad that'll be a "challenge" to eat (and possibly unsafe for the young and immunosuppressed).

      Got access to a couple of thermoelectric coolers? That would help expand your refrigeration capacity though they would require access to electricity.

      What I'm leaning towards here in all honesty is a large salt cod, some chorizo (which won't take up that much refrigeration), potato, onion. You can make bacalao al Pil-Pil

      3 Replies
      1. re: wattacetti

        There won't be any young or immunosuppressed, so no worries there. There is a big fridge, I just know that it was packed to the gills last time so I was hoping to at least bring baked goods (like the 7-layer bars) that don't require refrigeration, as opposed to something like key lime bars or fresh fruit pies. Once we get there, there will be plenty of coolers for short term storage. However, you might be right about bringing shelf stable ingredients and doing the actual cooking there.

        1. re: biondanonima

          Lake house to me also implies limited plumbing options so probably best not to risk the long weekend with unforeseen cleansings. Besides, it should be fun to cook in a group (unless the others can only make El Paso Tacos from the kit).

          1. re: wattacetti

            Well, there are a couple of decent cooks among the group, but last year no one wanted to spend a ton of time in the kitchen - too much fun to be had elsewhere! We grilled steaks and burgers and did other easy things, mostly. One morning we made a big pancake breakfast, but that was a big hassle in terms of coordinating the small space AND cleanup (there is a sink of course, but no dishwasher).

      2. We do this twice a year, every year, with about seven couples. We usually have two refrigerators. Everyone signs up in advance to be responsible for either a breakfast or a dinner (lunch is on your own, though usually everyone's too full from breakfast to feel like it). We all love to cook, so that's a difference, but we always have space for everything we need. Put the booze in coolers, and food if need be. Something made in advance and frozen will withstand the drive. Also, you can do a bunch of marinades in advance, put them in ziplock, freeze, let thaw... At any rate, some of the things we've had:
        Dinners: Lasagna, enchiladas, ribs, a variety of pasta dishes (canned tomatoes don't take up fridge space, and dried pasta doesn't either...) french onion soup (again, ingredients mostly don't require refrigeration), assorted other soups, fried chicken, ...
        Breakfast: Various kinds of pancakes and waffles, biscuits and gravy, various kinds of breakfast casseroles (which, again, can be premade), breakfast sandwiches/burritos, and ... the best... Sticky buns! (ingredients for many of these, again, require minimal refrigeration.)
        In short, almost anything works, and it's easy if you divide the labor. Almost anyone will be willing to be responsible for planning/making one meal. At this point we have more couples than meals, so sometimes more than one couple will contribute to a given meal.

        7 Replies
        1. re: overthinkit

          I think with any humidity they will certainly have sticky buns.

          But back on topic, I don't generally ever do anything like this, but certainly wouldn't mind making most of the meals because the mise en place and actual cooking is relaxing and that means that I get to eat what I want to eat with someone else taking care of the dirty dishes.

          biondanonima: since you're confirming the presence of a grill, any possibility of low and slow cooking?

          1. re: wattacetti

            Oh yes, we could do low and slow either on the grill or in the oven. Ribs or a brisket might be just the thing - I could bring a frozen one and let it thaw overnight in a cooler. A frozen casserole might also not be a bad idea - it would thaw on the drive, but we could just bake it and eat it the next day.

            1. re: biondanonima

              We frequently make much longer drives than that and things that are frozen generally still are when we arrive. We use those frozen gel things in the cooler with no problem. I've also thrown a couple of pork tenderloins with marinade into zipping bags into the cooler. They can be cooked on the grill that night or later.

              1. re: biondanonima

                We have a weekend house with a tiny kitchen and a brisket or any other meat (like pulled pork) that can be used over several meals is a great idea, I love it when people bring something like this. Rolls, sauces, etc to go with the meat is essential. I think a frozen-to-let-thaw lasanga would work well.

                Just a thought - Is anyone coordinating the food? I would let your friend know what you are bringing so she can plan to not worry about a main dish for that particular meal.

                The letting it thaw in the cooler idea for a cut of meat and/or frozen casserole is a good one. I know what it is like to have a bursting fridge.

                1. re: cleobeach

                  This is actually a sort of unique situation as the house in question is actually a full-time residence for my friend and her parents (and sister/boyfriend) during the summer. Her sister and boyfriend won't be there while we are, but her parents will - so they have a fully stocked kitchen for their normal use. Last year they did all the meal coordination and happily provided most of the food, and I'm sure they're planning to do the same this year. I was just hoping to bring some things along to lighten their load without taking over their kitchen in the process!

            2. re: overthinkit

              We have also had years of practice with this sort of situation in my family, and I agree that making meats ahead and freezing them for the trip works very well. My mother always did chicken in her marinade to be cooked on the grill, but I have also threaded and marinated beef and/or chicken on skewers, adding marinade and then freezing, ready to go on the grill. Works great. You could also do fajita style meats this way, as well as any meat you would marinate and grill.

              If you don't want to take main course foods, a gazpacho is a great thing to have on hand to go with a sandwich for lunch at this time of year. Packing a crudite selection with a bagna cauda (in this weather, only has to be heated once and can sit quite well), plus a nice little selection of cold cuts, cheeses, olives, etc., is a great option that can be pulled out for both informal lunches or appetizers.

              You could also go for breakfast ideas, like packing the makings for blueberry pancakes (and bloody mary's!).

              If dessert is an option, consider making a "crisp" topping at home and topping the best fruit you see at a farm stand along the way (my favorite is peach).

              As far as hostess gifts go, I'd be thrilled to received your jams. My latest gift is a trio of nuts - one is well spiced, one is Patricia Wells' almonds with thyme and sea salt, and one is sweet with cinnamon and sugar (my grandmother's simple recipe).

              Have a wonderful time and please let me know if I can provide any more info on my suggestions. As long as you can make the drive with a cooler and keep your food on ice for the trip, it should work fine. My last tip: pack things in rectangular containers because they take up less space in the fridge!

              1. re: Terrie H.

                Ooh, the spiced nuts are a GREAT idea, either as a hostess gift or a snack. A new Turkish grocer just opened up around the corner and they carry beautiful raw nuts at great prices - I'll have to whip up a batch or two.

            3. Chili made at home and frozen. Thaw at the cabin when needed. Serve with cornbread or make chili dogs. Obviously, you need to keep it simple.
              Taco makings
              Burgers are always good and easy, add bleu cheese
              Spaghetti: Bring sauce made at home and frozen

              1. Cooking Light just ran a terrific recipe for boneless pork and poblano tamale pie (I think the May edition). I made the meat filling ahead, froze it, then did the tamale topping/baking when guests arrived. Same issue had a great maple-mustard chicken thigh recipe that got rave reviews. Another make-ahead recipe is the (sobered up) Galloping Gourmet's vegetarian roasted veg lasagana--really good. Oh, one dessert: another Cooking Light--butterscotch bars. I've made 'em ahead and froze 'em, too, and they thaw beautifully. Of course, even better warm fresh from the oven. Good eating!